Tuesday, January 1, 2013

we'll always have paris...


Crossing the English Channel yet again was bittersweet. Mainly because it meant that I would be leaving France in just a few short days. Once the ferry landed again in Dieppe, we drove back to Evreux to meet parents and say goodbyes. It was bittersweet after getting to know these kids and spending nearly a week with them. But I had been traveling for weeks and would only continue traveling (with ridiculously heavy luggage), so I knew I needed to rest.

My last night in Evreux was spent at my friend Anthony's house, across the street from the Cathedral. We enjoyed a light meal and some reminiscing of my year in France, then it was time to hit the hay, tired from a week of leading the retreat and wrangling middle schoolers.

In the morning, very reluctantly, I packed up the rest of my things and gathered all of my luggage for the train. Anthony dropped me and my 500 lb companions off at the train station, only after some tearful goodbyes.

Once in Paris, for one last night, I dropped my bags at the hotel where I was staying with an American friend from Evreux and then took off to take full advantage of my precious time in this city. I visited some of my favorite spots and used this last chance to see some new things as well. I enjoyed the riverwalk along the Seine, walked through Rodin's gardens one last time, and even visited Napoleon.


I desire for my ashes to rest on the shore of the Seine
Amidst this French people that I have loved so much

The evening wound down with some prayer at Sacré Coeur, dinner at my favorite little bistro in all of Paris (on Montmartre, down the street from Sacré Coeur) with a friend who was by my side for nearly the entire year in France (and experienced all of the ups & downs alongside me). It was a wonderful last dinner in France as we reminisced and dreamed.

Because of an early trek to the airport the next morning, we headed to our hotel for a good night's rest. The day of my departure arrived all too quickly, but with my bags packed and loaded into a taxi to Charles de Gaulle, I had no choice but to stick with my plans. With just a twinge of regret and denial, I hauled all of my possessions from one side of the world to the other, finally returning to America, to my first (but not only) home.


It is nearly impossible to believe that this was all of nearly seven months ago. Since initially leaving France, I have been back as a camp counselor, have landed a job that I really love, have made new friends, have gotten back in touch with old ones. My life, though no longer lived in the most romantic country in the world, is nonetheless full of joy.

There is not a day that goes by where I don't think of France. Even when I miss it like crazy, those memories are some of the greatest, and my year living there has proven, thus far, to be one of the most important things I have ever done. I know that it will not be long before I can return to the country that has become my second home. Until then, I'll always have Paris...

pax christi.

Monday, December 17, 2012

where there is no love...


"Where there is no love, put love, and there you will find love"
--St. John of the Cross

This weekend, for most Americans, has been an emotionally-charged and confusing few days, myself included. I am speechless and heart broken following this newest tragedy. But my faith tells me that this is not in vain. As Father Steve said during his homily at Mass this morning, the shadow of the Cross loomed over even the light of the manger. We know that suffering exists in this world, even suffering that can seem inexplicable. There are new saints in heaven, but these are not the first martyrs our world has seen.

While the healing will certainly take time, the world is still turning. On Saturday morning, hoping to fight evil with goodness, beauty, and God's love, I volunteered at the Mission at Our Lady of the Angels. Their annual Christmas party serves their entire neighborhood, over a thousand families, children, seniors, and others who most likely would not have had anything. I saw dozens of kids beam at the sight of Santa. The entire gym was piled with brand new toys, donated so that these children would experience what many of us take for granted. Turkeys were donated so that the meal on Christmas would be special. As the families and neighbors filed in, there was excitement in the air and smiles on faces. All because they were receiving love. Love from strangers, love from God, love in a place they don't normally feel it. 

It was strange to feel such joy so soon after an incredible tragedy. It was almost guilt-inducing to be celebrating Christmas when so many families are in mourning. But then I heard the quote above this morning. And it hit me. The only way to heal from something like this is to put even more love into the world. It is what the saints all learned. It is what Mother Teresa knew. It's what the community at OLA practices. And it is the only solution to the evil in this world. 

pax christi.

Thursday, November 15, 2012



Without missing a beat, as soon as my mom was off to the airport from the hotel to fly home, I boarded a train to the coast with a final destination of England! I arrived in Dieppe, about 2 hours from Paris, with a few hours to spare before my inaugural ferry arrived. So I spent my afternoon in true French fashion. Being May 1st, everyone, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, was celebrating Mary with flowers. I bought a tiny bouquet, enjoyed a glass of wine along the pier, popped into the local church to pray, and leisurely ambled around town and along the water until I finally spotted the boat!

my ferry, pulling into the harbor in france

a ferry with a view?

i had an extended sunset, as i was travelling west

The ferry ride took 4 hours and was mostly uneventful. It felt much more like a cruise ship than I expected (albeit the tiniest cruise ship around), as my only previous ferry experience consisted of crossing Lake Michigan to get to Washington Island. A journey of no more than 45 minutes. This ferry, on the other hand, included a full restaurant, a bar, a gift shop, an arcade, and ample, comfortable seating. I spent some time on the deck, but retreated inside for most of the trip because it was chilly on the open seas!

I arrived in Newhaven in the evening, after sunset. I did not see much of England itself on that first night, but was instead greeted, after going through customs, by a British nun and my French friend Anthony!

My whole purpose in England was to serve as an English teacher and spiritual leader for a middle school break trip! Because my mom was visiting, I showed up a day later than everyone else, but I quickly settled in with Anthony, Fr. Eric, and about 12 French middle schoolers in the English town of Seaford for a 5-day intensive English retreat!

Our days consisted of meals prepared together, prayer & Mass, English lessons, games, and excursions in the area. We visited the local parish for Mass one day and were able to pray the Stations of the Cross in English! On another afternoon, we set the kids loose in town to visit different shops and try out their English. They came back with One Direction posters, chocolate, and even a dog toy, and I could not have been prouder at their willingness to communicate somehow or another with the people around them.

english class with miss maura

The part of Southeast England that we were in has a beautiful landscape and coastline. Seaford is home to a chain of chalk cliffs named the Seven Sisters, and they are breathtaking. It is the first thing you see as you approach in the ferry and you can walk on them, play golf, or farm. We spent an afternoon walking all along the cliffs and spotted plenty of sheep!

the seven sisters

My quick jaunt in England was amusing and quite enjoyable. It was strange to be surrounded by English-speakers once again, especially since I realized the need to practice my native language before returning home! Overall, I tried my best to teach English to a bunch of kids who were in vacation mode, but most importantly, I got to share my culture and my faith with these middle schoolers who really took something away from the trip. I ended up seeing one of the girls, Marie, later in the summer when I was back in France. Her brother, Nico, was a fellow counselor of mine at Katorin and when his family (including Marie) came to visit for a day, his mother thanked me again for Speak & Spi. It was an unexpected gift months later that helped reaffirm for me the retreat's impact on these kids. It had obviously bore fruit. Fruit that will hopefully last.

pax christi.